How to reap a beautiful garden despite the lockdown

Landscaping During A Pandemic

Independent/Landscape Details

Here is to a renewed love of this beautiful planet. Through this turbulent moment in our collective experience, we have learned that our gardening and landscaping work needs to keep in mind that sustainable and non-toxic methods are more important than ever. Might we suggest instead of a lawn, our readers plant organic vegetable gardens and wildflower meadows? If your light-loving grass grows beautifully in direct sunlight, the aforementioned will flourish as well — without the pesticides. The Parrish Art Museum’s natural growth looks more modern than the miles of green. Most important, it is hard to deny that through the global lockdown, we have given the planet a chance to heal.

One thing is for certain. We can at least take refuge from the outside world and practice social distancing ‘til the cows come home in our gardens. As the weather warms, we are reminded that work needs to get done to prepare our landscapes. We spoke with some of our favorite landscapers in the region for their ideas on preparing for the season and trends they were excited about.

German expat Holger Winenga moved to the U.S. to work in landscape design, renovations, and installations in New York and Virginia. He is one of the most well-known horticulturists on the East End, which is not a surprise since he comes from a world-famous line of horticulturists. Winenga is the lead on horticulture at LongHouse Reserve and manages large swaths of landscapes.

“We have been working on weeding and mulching all planting beds at LongHouse to get a head-start on weed-control for the summer. Now is the time to remove early-flowering weeds before they go to seed,” Winenga said. “Most beds are still covered in daffodils. In perennial borders, it easily happens that tall daffodils crowd out fragile perennials. It works best to plant larger clumps of daffodils just in empty spaces between the perennials or grasses. In a perennial border, it would work well to plant the smaller daffodils. Other more naturalized areas with hay-scented ferns, Ostrich ferns, and spreading groundcovers can handle thickly planted daffodils without any trouble.”

Holger Winenga. Independent/Ty Wenzel

“In the next few weeks we will be planting some new and exciting hardy perennials and ornamental grasses. As an annual tradition, we add 10 new varieties of witch hazels to LongHouse’s already large collection,” he said.

“Early vegetable crops like kale, arugula, radishes, and some lettuce mixes have been sown. Tomatoes, cucumbers, and squash will follow when they are safe from night frosts. Around Memorial Day it is safe to plant out our tropical garden and some annuals in patio pots,” added Winenga.

When asked what trends he saw for the current season, he responded, “It seems like everybody wants to have a little vegetable garden to grow their own food (or peace of mind). Right now, it is such a convenience to not have to go to the grocery store and pick early herbs, arugula, or mesclun from your backyard. I have had wonderful crops of herbs in large pots on the patio last year. Even patio planters with early harvested lettuce and tomatoes planted in the center did amazingly.”

This year’s trend at the LongHouse is to focus on sustainable and long-lived perennials and perennial groundcover in larger quantities to fill areas between and under shrubs and keep weeds out and reduce future maintenance while beautifying the gardens.

To add pop, we loved his suggestion of adding dahlias. “This season we hope to set a new trend in using dahlias in a very different way than normally found in gardens,” Winenga explained. “Carefully chosen color combination in coordination with our perennial plantings and placed as if we would plant late blooming perennials, these Dahlia plantings will be a lot less maintenance and fuss than the overfertilized giants that need daily tying up and deadheading.”

Gardening during the lockdown is quite a challenge for the profession. Winenga said, “Safe gardening needs to be followed at all times right now. At LongHouse Reserve, we are following strict guidelines to keep everybody safe: Each gardener works in a different area to keep safe distance. Wearing a mask when near other people is essential. Still keep at least six-feet of distance, even with mask. Thoroughly washing hands on a regular basis is very important. Disinfecting your hands when touching surfaces like door handles needs to be practiced as thoroughly. Never touch your face unless you just washed your hands. If you need to do gardening with other people, keep a separate set of tools for each person in a designated area. If you have a gardener or work with other people, make sure they practice ‘safe distancing’ at all times. Bathrooms should not be shared, unless they get thoroughly disinfected after each use!”

Michael Derrig. Independent/Ty Wenzel

Michael Derrig, owner of Landscape Details, has been a member of the American Society of Landscape Architects for over 28 years. He was awarded the 2019 Star of Design in the Landscape Design category by the exclusive Decoration and Design Building in New York City. He’s also one of our favorite landscape architects, whose landscapes with their elegant aesthetic inspires us year after year. “Now is the perfect time to maintain and take good care of what you have invested so much time and resources in . . .your garden!” he said.

“Maintenance is essential not only for aesthetic reasons but also for the long-term health of your garden.  Removing limbs and other debris reduces places for rodents to harbor, pulling invasive weeds reduces competition with your ornamental plants, and perhaps one of the most beneficial things you can do this time of year is to build and beef up available nutrients in your soil by adding compost and other organic materials.  These are just a few of the great ways to prepare for the gardening season ahead and to help keep Landscape Details, and you, busy!”

Derrig added: “Moreover, the governor has deemed landscape maintenance an essential service, knowing that what we do now can significantly help control insect populations such as mosquitos and ticks in our landscapes, further benefiting public health later in the season.  We are proud and thankful for our team members who are out in our community helping to maintain your properties.”

Chris Hall is ready to complete his landscaping projects as soon as the lockdown is lifted. Independent/CP Complete

Chris Hall, co-proprietor of CP Complete, explained how his landscaping work falls under the umbrella of his construction business. “It is a nonessential business and we are not permitted to work at this time,” he explained. The lockdown has improved his client relationships, though not in the way he expected.

“Professionally, what has occurred is a once-in-a-lifetime chance to work closely, although not in person. Social distancing has been eased by the use of Zoom, FaceTime. Ironically, it has allowed us to interact with clients even more closely and often on a daily basis. We have not had the normal seasonal pressure to make decisions quickly. It has led to more of a collaborative effort and yielded incredible results. The projects we have underway are set to become the among the most rewarding and distinctive ones ever.”

When asked about his favorite inspirations of the season, Hall said, “We continue to see bringing the luxuries of indoor living to outdoor space. The contour of the land, once seen as a challenge, is now seen as an incredible opportunity. Rolling hills allow for natural implementation of negative edge swimming pools, luxury pool houses, interior home renovations with natural light through full size basement windows and doors, and multi-level patios that create private expansive views.”

Hall added, “We’ve implemented beautiful stacked stone wall design, introduced a wider variety of plants and trees than ever before, created outdoor living space that revolves around family and extended family. Comfort and practicality are replacing ostentatious, over the top design. Maybe it’s a sign of the times, but I also see the trend of recognizing the importance of bringing people together and planning for multigenerational gatherings. We are currently adding bedrooms and bathrooms, creating finished basements on an unprecedented scale, and building pergolas and pool houses as added outdoor living space.”

Independent/Landscape Details

Declan Blackmore, owner of Summerhill Landscapes, echoed some of the aforementioned ideas. “People will be spending a lot more time in their backyards this summer, so I see vegetable gardens, maybe a new berry patch, a bocce court, and why not a pitch and putt course for the kids? I am working remotely from home and conducting a lot of video conferences calls with clients, architects, and staff managers. We are very fortunate for family, friends, and our good health, and wish the same for everyone.”

“Cutting and rose gardens, along with herb and vegetable gardens are hugely popular! While sheltering in place, clients are really thinking and getting excited about gardening in their own back yard,” Derrig explained. “Making your garden a productive space, both in terms of output and experiences, is a great way to spend time with family. There is so much satisfaction and joy to be gained from harvesting from your personal garden, whether it is to brighten rooms with floral displays or use the bounty of the garden in your own kitchen.”

Derrig confirmed the anxiety-easing idea that gardening is a calming endeavor in itself. “Productive gardening is a trend that we expect to see a lot of this summer and one that we hope will continue for many seasons to come! And during this time of uncertainty and stress, nurturing your own garden is a fantastic way to relieve some of the anxiety we all are experiencing and serve as a source of pride for you and your loved ones.”

So often we find that we don’t have the time to stop and smell the roses. Here’s our chance to finally take in the beautiful region we live in and (probably) take for granted in our daily grind. “We are fortunate to live in one of the most beautiful places in the U.S, even the world!” exclaimed Derrig. “From the ocean and beaches to our outdoor spaces and parks, there are so many things we are all re-valuing as truly important to us. Family, friends, and community are of course most important but we have been warmed by the expressions of appreciation for the beautiful gardens we have helped clients create, gardens that are now such an important part of their daily lives.”

Derrig concluded: “One really terrific surprise during this time is that many people who normally are not able to appreciate and enjoy the beauty of spring in the Hamptons, or their own gardens, are fully experiencing the endless beauty at this special time of year. Take a deep breath. Stop and smell the roses, the hyacinth, the viburnum, or admire whatever brings you the most joy in your garden. You’ll be better off for having done so. Be safe and be well.”

Independent/Landscape Details

We at Indy couldn’t agree more, so we organized a quick guide to the most important task requirements for a rich and healthy garden our readers can implement to grow their own beautiful garden:

  • The first order of business is to get your tools in order and order your plant foods and soils. This is the perfect time to sharpen the blades of your shovels, trowels, and clippers. You will also want to replenish your plant supports, like vegetable cages and trellises.
  • Pruning wakes up trees and shrubs that need to be cut back because old wood can inhibit the plants from starting to engage in the regrowth of healthier architecture. Some that need pruning this time of year would include flowering dogwood, crepe myrtle, all roses, wisteria, butterfly bushes, and honeysuckle. You can also use this time to guide vines like wisteria and ivy. Do not prune rhododendron, forsythia, hydrangea, lilac, magnolia, camellia, or weigela until after season.
  • It’s vital to start clearing out the debris and weeds in the yard unless you’re starting from scratch with bare soil. If you don’t have compost on hand, you can order it by the bag or pick some up from the local dumps for free. Pull weeds out by the roots or they will grow and compete for the nutrients in your soil.
Chris Hall is ready to complete his landscaping projects as soon as the lockdown is lifted. Independent/CP Complete
  • Speaking of soil, once frost has completely lifted, you can start to work the garden beds. You will want to loosen the ground because it becomes compacted during the cold months. Any sharp tool is fine to use, a tiller is even better, to up to 14 inches to loosen up the soil. Once loosened, add your compost and mix it in for nutrients to completely incorporate itself so that your plants will reap its benefits in the form of health and growth.
  • This is the time to set up your new garden beds, and window and patio planters. Of course, use soil that has been mixed with compost or nutrient amendments so that your beautiful plants will grow faster and healthier. Make sure, for planters, that they have good drainage with at least one hole for water to escape.
  • This is the best time to divide your clumping flowers and plants. Springtime is when you split your overgrown clumps of Hostas, Shasta Daisies, Daylilies, and Siberian Irises. Just dig them up around the perimeter of the clump in the form of a root ball, disentangle the roots, and pull apart the root stocks and tubers. It may be necessary to cut the clump apart with a knife before you replant them right away. This is the best way to propagate and literally grow your garden.
  • Apply a thick layer of mulch wherever you can. This will keep weeds from sprouting. But don’t on new seeds because they won’t get the sunlight they need.

We only have one home – earth. If you follow these simple guides and listen to our experienced sources, your own little piece of it can be healthy, sustainable and beautiful. Keeping a landscape healthy keeps its owners and neighbors healthy – it is a trend we can believe in.

To view more about Winenga or LongHouse Reserve, go to www.longhouse.org. To learn about Landscape Details, visit www.landscapedetails.com. To learn more about Summerhill Landscapes, visit www.summerhilllandscapes.com. To learn more about CP Complete, visit www.cpcomplete.com.

ty@indyeastend.com